5 Restaurant Delivery Packaging Mistakes

Posted by Brad Brooks

Brad was the Sales & Marketing Director at SpeedLine Solutions from 2019 to 2022. He utilized his 20 years of experience in the restaurant technology industry to help him lead the sales and marketing teams to provide innovative solutions for our customers.

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Packaging products for delivery is not as simple as putting food into a foam container. 

By thinking of your packaging as an opportunity to build brand, increase sales, preserve food quality, and build customer experience, you can take your packaging from adequate to amazing. Here are five of the most popular mistakes made with delivery packaging, and how to fix them:


1. No Branding

If your restaurant is using generic, unbranded packaging, you are missing an opportunity to connect your brand to the customer’s experience. This is especially true in today’s delivery environment, where customers often order from their favorite food app rather than directly from your restaurant. That customer may not have ordered from you because they love your food. They may have ordered from you because you had the lowest delivery fee, or they were craving a certain cuisine. They may even have ordered from you thinking that you were another restaurant. By not branding your packaging, you’re missing an opportunity to associate your food with your restaurant. 

Essentially, the goal is to build an association between your brand, and the feeling someone has while eating your food. If the connection is strong enough, you’ll evoke the memory and feeling whenever they see your brand. 

In an article on Pizza Today, Mike Bausch, owner of Andolini's Pizzeria pointed out how important it is to "wrap" your pizza. To him, an unbranded box creates a feeling that "nothing specials is about to occur."

How can you brand your delivery packaging? For instance, if you bag items together, think about adding your logo to the bag. Many restaurants use plain plastic or paper bags--wasting an opportunity. 

Delivery people often get comments from people as they walk by, or ride in an elevator filling it with delicious food smells. If your drivers aren’t wearing your brand, holding your branded insulated bags, and your branded paper bags, you’re missing out. (As an aside, you should arm your delivery people with menus to give to these people.) For people already familiar with your food, the smell combined with your branding on the box will trigger cravings. 

Branding costs money, and you might be hesitant to go all in. Use stickers to test it for your restaurant in a low cost way, without paying for custom printing. 



2. Missing Information

There is basic information that should be included on your packaging along with your logo and brand. At the least, your website should be included. If your concept is new, or has only a handful of locations, adding address or cities served will be helpful. Adding your phone number to packaging is not as relevant as it was 15 years ago. The exception is if you have an easy to remember vanity number. Website, address (or city), and phone number are key if your brand is not very large, but you might want to add more, especially to your larger packaging pieces. If your customers are active on social media, include the channels you participate in on your packaging as well. Finally, if you have an app be sure to advertise that prominently. 

Along with your brand, there is some basic information that belongs on every delivery box. At the very least, your website URL should be included. If your concept is new, or only has a handful of location, put the address or cities served as well. Phone numbers aren’t as important as they were 15 years ago, but consider social media handles, and a QR code for your online ordering app if you have one. 

Examples of often missed information include:

  • Website URL
  • Phone number
  • Address
  • Other locations
  • Cities served
  • Social media handles
  • How to download your online ordering app


3. Not Educating Your Customer

Think of your packaging like tiny billboards that allow you to communicate directly with your customer. You can use the space to tell a story about your brand and differentiate yourself in the customer’s mind. If you think about your favorite brands, you’ll notice that you tell yourself and others a little story about why they’re special to you. Consumers buy based on emotion, and then justify those purchases. Here are some ideas:


The most basic educational piece to include with your orders is a menu. Bear in mind that the menu may be one of the only interactions that a customer has with your brand. Get it designed professionally and compare it to the branding pieces that some of your largest competitors distribute. If you include photography, work with a photographer who specializes in food. If you go text-only on your menus, remember that white space is your friend. Resist the temptation to cram too much information onto the menu. Have them printed on a good quality paper, and included in each delivery.

Alternatively, consider adding a list of menu items to the delivery box itself. Previti Pizza, a Manhattan pizzeria, lists their pizza on their boxes. This is two-fold for them: for every order, the staff check off which pizza belongs in the box, reducing errors; and customers can see a list of all the other pizzas Previti Pizza offers. 


Tell the customer what is different or notable about your ingredients and how you get them. Examples include:

  • 100% Real Cheese
  • Vine-ripened Tomatoes
  • Locally sourced

Recipes and Preparation

Tell the customer what they’re tasting. You could take them on the journey of how you tried 200 different sauces before you perfectly balanced the spices and created the perfect combination of spicy and sweet. You can describe how your grandmother taught you how to make the sauce that’s been a part of your family for over 200 years. You can tell them about how your committed team comes in early every morning to make your sauces from scratch. 

Social Responsibility

Every restaurant has a social responsibility story. And every restaurant should tell their customers about how they contribute. On your packaging, you can highlight that you sponsor a local sports team. Perhaps you have contributed food and donations to disaster relief. Maybe you’ve made a switch to fully recyclable packaging. Have you set up a scholarship fund for deserving employees? Are you donating food to local food banks and shelters? Your delivery boxes and bags are a perfect place to highlight these accomplishments. 

Customer Service and Feedback

Your packaging can show customers how to provide feedback on your food and service. Giving customers an easy way to contact you can reduce or eliminate the frustration they feel when a mistake is made, or when an item doesn’t meet their expectations. A simple way to do this is to set up a survey page on your website and include that link on the packaging. Tell us what you think: show a link to a survey page.

Storage and Reheating Instructions

A subtle way to drive sales can be to add reheating instructions to your package. For example, pizza can be microwaved, but it’s much better if it’s warmed in the oven. It may seem obvious, but provide instructions that tell a customer the correct temperature to reheat at, and to place the item on a baking sheet. These specific instructions increase the value of leftovers, and may lead to higher per-transaction sales. 


4. Not Including a Promotion

Return Visit

One of the biggest missed opportunities in the restaurant industry is failing to sell the next visit. Most restaurants rely on repeat business to survive (the exceptions being locations that rely heavily on tourism). Turning customers who order on the weekend into customers who also order on a weeknight will increase sales and have a huge impact on profitability. On weeknights, do the opposite and entice them to order from you on the weekend with a special offer. 

The key to this strategy is to provide a special item, price or combo that is only available on the day you’ve targeted for an increase in sales. 

Order Direct Next Time

If you’re struggling with making third party ordering--where orders come in through UberEats, DoorDash or another aggregator platform--profitable, you can use an incentive to encourage those customers to order directly from you. Determine what you can offer for free that would provide a sense of real value to the customer. For example, if you offer free breadsticks when a customer ordered directly from you online, you’ll be able to avoid the service fees charged by third-party services. Your cost might only be $1-2, and you’ll avoid $5-7 in fees. You’ll also get better information about your customer’s habits, and create a stronger sense of loyalty.


5. Not Testing Items for Delivery

How well do your items fare during the delivery process? When customers get items, do they look and taste like you intended? The only way to determine this is to test it.

How to test:

  1. Begin by making your most frequently ordered items. Eventually, you’ll want to test all of the items on your menu, but by doing this in batches, you’ll determine common errors and improve quickly.
  2. Pack them for delivery exactly the way you would for a customer, including putting them into a delivery bag like the one your drivers use.
  3. Put everything in your car and drive for about 20 minutes, simulating the time that it would take a driver to get to the majority of your customers’ addresses. 
  4. While you’re out, have your team prepare fresh samples of the food items you’re testing. 
  5. Return to the restaurant and unpack the food.
  6. Have your staff taste the fresh sample of each item, and compare it to the “delivered” version.
  7. Rate each one on the following scale:
    • Excellent - This item was as good as the fresh version.
    • Acceptable - This item was not as good as the fresh item, but it was still good.
    • Unacceptable - I would not be proud to say this was from my restaurant.
  8. If you find that most items are “Acceptable”, have your staff rank the items using a top 3 and bottom 3 approach. The goal is to identify items that can be improved for delivery.

Delivery packaging for salads.


Create an Action Plan

From your testing, you’ll probably have identified several items that need to be improved. You’ll need to consider a wide array of challenges. For some items, it simply won’t be possible to deliver the same quality that you would expect if it was served fresh. That said, better packaging and decisions during recipe development can help to prevent a drastic loss of quality. 

You have 4 main options for improving the customer experience:

  1. Change packaging
  2. Change recipe
  3. Remove item from your delivery menu
  4. Do nothing

Now, determine which option is the right one based on: 

  • Popularity of the item
  • Severity of the issue 
  • Cost of new packaging
  • Long term plans for the menu item
  • Viability of making a recipe change

If you decide that you’re not going to make a change, you can consider using education to assist customers in making a better choice. Whether or not this strategy is acceptable will depend heavily on how your customers order. If most customers order online, education is not likely an option. However, if they order over the phone, you may be able to explain the challenges with the item and leave the decision up to them.


Common Problems and Solutions

1. Items have fallen over during delivery, sauce has spilled out.

This is often caused by using plastic bags with a flexible bottom. Consider using paper bags with a more structured bottom. If you are concerned about items soaking through, you can reinforce the bottom with a piece of cardboard, or wrap the products that tend to leak in a plastic bag. 

2. Fried items are soggy.

The heat and moisture trapped in a container will cause items to steam and become soggy. It’s a key reason that companies like McDonald’s have open-top packaging for fries. Vented packaging can help to reduce the steaming from occurring. You can vent packaging yourself with a sharp knife by just slicing off corners of packages.

3. Items are too greasy.

Since this typically occurs with fried products, reducing the steaming effect by venting may reduce the need for additional changes. However, if the items are still releasing too much grease onto the bottom of the container, consider using corrugated paper to line the bottom of the packaging. Not only will this help absorb some of the excess oil, but it will add air space between the bottom of the product and the food item, which is another source of sogginess. 

4. Warm items have gotten cold / cold Items have warmed.

Separating items with different temperatures in your delivery bags can solve many of these issues. Consider using delivery bags with separate compartments for cold and hot products. You could even consider a separate bag for cold items to improve the quality of items like salads and cold drinks.

Delivery packaging is an important part of your restaurant's delivery program, and shouldn't be overlooked. By fixing the five mistakes above, your restaurant's brand reputation will improve tremendously. 


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Posted on Thu, Sep 19, 2019 @ 13:09 PM.
Updated on April 6, 2021 @ 7:52 PM PST.

Tags: Restaurant Delivery, Restaurant Management, Restaurant Marketing

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